Concorde Captain Talks About Barrel Roll

There was a piece on the BBC Future website today titled “What Concorde was like to fly” ( – Note: you might not be able to view this page in the United Kingdom, talk to the BBC about it)  The article gave a link to a video on YouTube, in which Captain Brian Walpole talked about flying the Concorde and the occasion that he and a French test pilot rolled an empty Concorde.  There are some images of the beast but fortunately  (?!) none of the roll manoeuvre.

In the words of ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris – Nice.

I did see some footage years ago of the prototype Boeing 707 being rolled in 1955, and YouTube suggests in its related videos.  I also recall seeing Chuck Yeager rolling he Bell X-1 but that’s a different kettle of fish.


Jake Moellendick and Wichita – The Air Capital


Jacob “Jake” Moellendick. (1879-1940)

A couple of years ago I gave a lecture drawn from the book Borne on the South Wind (Wichita, KS: Wichita Eagle, 1994), about the history of aviation in Kansas. I concentrated on some of the pioneers, and it struck me that the state’s rise to the forefront of aviation in the USA was largely the product of one man’s vision. He died in relative obscurity, a pauper, in 1940, but at different times had worked with, or employed, several key figures in the history of US aviation.

That man was Jacob “Jake” Moellendick. Born in Ohio in 1879, he made his fortune in the oilfields outside Wichita in the early years of the 20th Century. It is unclear how he got he aviation bug, but by 1919 had founded the Wichita Airplane Company and, at a partner’s suggestion, persuaded Emil Matthew “Matty” Laird to move from Chicago to Wichita. Moellendick and Laird founded the E.M. Laird Airplane Company. Laird had some ideas for modifying the design of the Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” to carry two people in the front cockpit. His design, originally known as the Laird Tractor or Laird Wichita Tractor, became known as the Laird Swallow. The Swallow has the distinction of being America’s first commercially produced aircraft.

1920 Laird Tractor Biplane, Swallow

1920 Laird Tractor Biplane (Swallow). Displayed at the Kansas Aviation Museum, Wichita, Kansas.
Photographed by me in 2011

Laird Tractor - Tail

1920 Laird Tractor (Swallow) – Tail
Displayed at the Kansas Aviation Museum

Laird Swallow at the Kansas Aviation Museum, Wichita, in 2011.

1927 (Laird) Swallow. Restored in 2004 and displayed at the Kansas Aviation Museum, Wichita, KS.
Photographed by me in 2011.

Laird and Moellendick’s business relationship was strained by the latter’s penchant for making executive decisions without consulting his partner. Hiring Lloyd and Waverly Stearman was OK with Laird, but expanding the factory and hiring a test pilot named Walter Beech was not. Laird left in 1923 and returned to Chicago. George B. “Buck” Weaver was next to express his discontent. He left to form the Weaver Airplane Company (WACO).

Lloyd Stearman and Walter Beech had an idea to improve the Swallow by making a tubular steel fuselage frame. Moellendick was enraged at the suggestion,  and invited them to take their proposal and their employment elsewhere. They did. They went to see Clyde Cessna, and the result of that meeting was the Travel Air Manufacturing Company. Office manager at Travel Air was Olive Ann Mellor. The Travel Air company and its products achieved almost legendary status, and rightly deserves its own chapter in the annals of American aviation history.

One of Travel Air’s early customers was a young pilot named Charles Lindbergh,  who thought a Travel Air would be ideally suited for a long distance flight from New York to Paris. Beech declined the order, with the result that Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic in a Ryan monoplane.

Cessna left Travel Air to pursue his own ideas, especially about the development of monoplanes. Stearman left Travel Air to form his own company in California, but ironically Stearman Aircraft would return to Wichita later. Stearman’s own career would take him back to California where he ended his days at Lockheed.   Walter and Olive Ann Beech sold Travel Air before the bottom fell out of the aviation business in the depression.  Walter would later buy the Travel Air business back from its owners and with two seminal designs, the Model 17 “Staggerwing” biplane and the Model 18 twin engined monoplane, put Beech Aircraft – Beechcraft – into the forefront of American Aviation.

Moellendick persevered with Swallow, and sank most of his personal finance into  the Dallas Spirit,  a racing monoplane development which was lost in the infamous 1927 Dole Air Derby from Oakland to Honolulu.  The loss signed the death warrant of the company.  Various figures apparently tried to keep Swallow afloat,  but the company went under and, having sold his interest, Jake Moellendick died penniless. The cost of his funeral was covered by figures from the local aviation community who didn’t want to see him buried in a pauper’s grave by Sedgwick County, Kansas.

As a footnote,  some histories record that Gerald “Jerry” Vultee worked for Swallow early in his his career. The biographies are sufficiently vague as to offer no confirmation,  but if this is true, it gives increased emphasis to  Jake Moellendick’s crucial role in Kansas and American aviation.

Jake Moellendick (center) meets Amelia Earhart at Wichita in 1929.

Happy News from England: G-BPIV “L6739” Flies

I read on Twitter that the Aircraft Restoration Company (ARCo) had got their Bristol Blenheim Mk.1 back into the air. My congratulations, I’ve been following the whole Blenheim story since the 1980s, and it’s nice to see the work has reached a conclusion and she’s back in the air.

I can’t find a photo of the finished product that isn’t copyrighted and I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, so here’s a picture from 2010 that has a Creative Commons license.

Do, however visit this link and see some beautiful pictures of G-BPIV taking to the skies last week:

Blenheim Mk I reconstruction

Blenheim Mk I reconstruction by the Aircraft Restoration Co at Duxford, for the owners, Blenheim (Duxford) Ltd. The reconstruction is based upon a restored Bolingbroke airframe with restored Blenheim Mk I nose section.
by Chad Kainz (Chicago, USA)
(CC BY 2.0)

And for the Blenheim aficionados here’s a pic of a Finnish Air Force example:

Blenheim Mk.1 Landing at Luonetjärvi Airfield, March 1944

Shrinking World

My local airport is Joplin Regional Airport (IATA code JLN), which is about 30 miles from here.  When I first flew into Joplin, it was a cold January night and I’d flown from London Gatwick to St. Louis in a TWA Boeing 747. Making the switch from the 747 to the TW Express BAe Jetstream 31 (below) was quite a leap. It was fun, however, except on one occasion when I disembarked in a rainstorm and picked up my checked you-can’t-carry-this-on backpack from a rain-soaked tarmac. That’s another story, and nothing was seriously damaged.

British Aerospace (BAe) Jetstream 31 of Trans World Express via Wikimedia Commons
(CC-BY-SA-3.0) –

Fast forward a few years. When Susan and I went back to England in 2013 we flew from the new terminal at Joplin. We took an American Eagle ERJ-145 to Dallas-Fort Worth.

American Eagle (Envoy Air) Embraer ERJ-145 at Joplin – Gate 1 (2014)
by Sla2931 – Own work via Wikimedia Commons

This is the only service out of Joplin, but it’s a jet, and DFW is a big hub. In 2013 We connected with a flight from DFW to London-Heathrow, and then from Heathrow to Newcastle.

I have to say that the flight from Dallas to Heathrow on an American Airlines Boeing 777 was one of the less pleasant experiences of my life. I assume the seating in cattle class has been moved even closer together. Fortunately we came back on a venerable BA 747 which was a little less painful.

But – as I found out recently, a new destination has been added to those available from DFW.  Sydney, Australia. For a few months a 747-400ER made the trip, with an intermediate stop in Brisbane, and apparently on one occasion a highly intermediate stop in Noumea, New Caledonia when the pilots on the flight from Dallas felt they couldn’t make Brisbane for fuel.

However, from September 2014 QANTAS changed the equipment and now the flight is non-stop in an A380.  Woohoo!

Airbus A380 at DFW
by Carguychris – Own work via Wikimedia Commons
(CC BY-SA 4.0)

If you look closely at the QANTAS Kangaroo it’s wearing a Stetson and has a blue neckerchief with little white stars, suggestive of the American flag. A nice touch. I saw a logo on something (I don’t remember what) with the strapline “G’Day, Texas.”

The DFW – SYD route is currently the longest commercial air service in the world in terms of distance covered. Singapore Airlines used to fly from Newark, NJ to Singapore which was a longer, but that route has been cancelled. I note from Wikipedia “Since Flight 8 is both an overnight flight and crosses the International Date Line, it arrives in Sydney two days after departing Dallas.”

SYD-DFW Route Map by Baseball Watcher
Own work Via Wikimedia Commons
(CC BY-SA 3.0)

It’s nice to know that if we have the time, money and inclination we can get on a small plane in Joplin, get on an enormous plane in Dallas and fly non-stop to Sydney. Even if we have to cross the International Date Line and have some very interesting jet lag experiences as a result.  🙂


Significant Sounds – 2

David Herkt’s blog post in his Notes and Queries blog linked YouTube sound and video clips, two of which I had never heard before. Herkt was also seeking to demonstrate the potential of conceptual links between disparate media elements by browsing.

Having introduced the recording of the nightingale and bombers overflying Beatrice Harrison’s garden in 1942, (see Significant Sounds – 1) Herkt made the conceptual link to an RAF officer who commanded a bomber base in England. This officer took some 16mm colour film footage of the station, and the Lancasters based there going off to war. This footage was released on video in the UK in the early 1980s as the documentary Night Bombers. I remember checking out the VHS cassette repeatedly to patrons from the new video collection in the public library at which I worked in 1982.

The final logical step in Herkt’s linear narrative was made with the clip below – a recording of the allegro of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat Major Op. 73 (the Emperor Concerto), which was made in Berlin in 1944 while an Allied air raid was taking place.  The soloist in this recording is Walter Wilhelm Gieseking (1895 – 1956) and the Berlin Radio orchestra is conducted by Artur Martin Rother (1885 – 1972) – the recording was made for the Reichs Rundfunk Gesellschaft (RRG) the state radio network of the Reich,  at the Radio Concert Hall (I presume that’s what HdR stands for) in Berlin.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I listened to this recording,  certainly something much more scratchy and indistinct. I had no idea that German research into the technology of magnetic tapes made high quality recordings possible several years before anything similar would be available in the UK or USA.  It is also fairly staggering to realize that musicians and recording engineers were even available, much less attempting, to make recordings at the the end of 1944, while the Allied air forces bombed the Third Reich round the clock, and the Allied armies advanced steadily from the East and West. That an orchestra, soloist and a recording session should come together in Berlin at the end of 1944 and produce results such as this, is remarkable.

During the quiet passages,  at approximately the 2 minute 30 –  and 5 minute 40 second marks  in the recording, the sound of gunfire, presumably part of the Berlin Anti-Aircraft battery, is clearly audible. This recording is a significant document, and my thanks to David Herkt for making me aware of it.


Significant Sounds – 1

This is one of those YouTube videos where the visual element is much less important than the soundtrack.

BBC engineers had set up their apparatus to record a nightingale in a Surrey garden on the night of May 19th 1942. They had done this every year since 1924, when the house and garden belonged to the family of renowned British cellist Beatrice Harrison. The sound of Harrison’s cello, accompanied by nightingales, was the first live outside broadcast made by the BBC and had become immensely popular.     The 1942  broadcast was intended to provide a peaceful and pleasant interlude during the time of war, but was abandoned as a number of RAF bombers, outward bound on a raid, flew overhead.  The recording itself was completed and saved, and has been re-broadcast and re-used many times since the war, even being used in the 1975 album Nightingales and Bombers  by Mannfred Mann’s Earth Band .

The Bomber Command war diary recorded that 197 aircraft – 105 Wellingtons, 31 Stirlings, 29 Halifaxes, 15 Hampdens, 13 Lancasters, and 4 Manchesters – took part in this particular raid on Mannheim. 11 aircraft – 4 Halifaxes, 4 Stirlings, and 3 Wellingtons – were lost.  The engines audible in the clip are more than likely Bristol Hercules, used by the vast majority aircraft taking part the raid. I’m curious whether we may deduce which bombers were heard in the clip. I’m not certain which bases would have used an outward bound route over Oxted, Surrey on the way to Mannheim. Perhaps someone has done this work already. I will have a further look. For the sake of illustration, I found a rather nice illustration of some Wellingtons of approximately the right vintage in the collection of the Imperial War Museum.

Vickers Wellington

Vickers Wellington Mark IIIs (visible BK347 BT-Z and DF640 BT-T) of No. 30 Operational Training Unit, lined up at Hixon, Staffordshire, for a leaflet dropping (“Nickelling”) sortie over France in September, 1943.
Imperial War Museum Collection, Catalogue number CH 18411

Visual Memory

I was working on an illustration of N83FA following some other research this afternoon, and happened to cover the GIMP window I was using with my web browser.  Something else clicked in my mind as a result.

Here’s what I saw:

My desktop with the nose of a Carvair poking out from underneath the web browser

My desktop with the nose of a Carvair poking out from underneath the web browser

It was the size of the nose and position of the cockpit. I knew I’d seen it before.

And I had – back in my collection of paperbacks.  It was the cover illustration of Adam Hall’s spy adventure The Tango Briefing (London: Collins, 1973 – my paperback is Fontana, 1975).  The Tango Briefing is one of the “Quiller” series of novels about the eponymous British spy. In this case he must examine a missing British commercial transport aircraft which has just been located in the North African desert.

Cover of The Tango Briefing by Adam Hall

Cover of The Tango Briefing by Adam Hall – Illustration by Chris Foss, from for purpose of illustration / identification.

Adam Hall was another pseudonym of the prolific British author Trevor Dudley-Smith (1920-1995). also known as Elleston Trevor, (author of Flight of the Phoenix).  The paperback cover illustration is the work of British artist and illustrator Chris Foss, who illustrated a number of paperbacks in my collection.  Chris Foss might not have used a Carvair for a reference in this case, but you can see how my mind worked.